It’s practically an adult rite of passage to wake up the morning after the night before and think, Right, that's it, I'm never drinking again, only to relent on that half-hearted promise the next weekend. But for one writer, enough really was enough. No, she didn't have a drinking problem, nor did she feel dependent on alcohol to have a good time, yet still, writer and mental health ambassador Roxie Nafousi decided her life was better off sober. And she's just one of a growing number of young women in the UK turning away from the booze. Here, she writes exclusively for Byrdie UK about her experiences.
At the end of last year, I decided I wanted to change my life. I had this feeling that I wasn’t fulfilling my potential and that I wasn’t the best, happiest version of myself. I wanted 2018 to be my year. I looked back at all the times I’d been my happiest and noticed that one of the main common factors in all those times was that I was living clean, eating well and not drinking alcohol.
I’d go on a retreat of some sort, cleanse my body of toxins, feel fresh and full of energy and have an insanely productive few weeks. Then I’d have a social event in the diary that would see me fall off the wagon and back in my cycle of too many Cosmopolitans on a Friday night, recovering with pizza and sweets on the Saturday, having a roast and Bloody Marys on Sunday and then snoozing my alarm too many times on Monday morning. That’s almost three days of a week spent feeling less than 100%.
I wanted to get out of this cycle once and for all. I’d always look at people who didn’t drink and thought that they must be really strong-willed. I was kind of in admiration of their ability to live life hangover- and guilt-free—they never had to worry about drunk dialling or, worse, drunk Instagramming. But I’d never thought before that I would ever, or could ever, do it myself. But after the Christmas party season (enough to put anyone off drinking for a while), I was making my New Year’s resolutions and decided there and then that I was going to give up drinking, simply to see what happened.
Don't you have to be an alcoholic to stop drinking?
When I decided I wanted to stop drinking, quite a few of my friends would say things like, “But you’re not an alcoholic. Why would you need to go teetotal? Isn’t that a bit drastic?” It made me question my decision. My inner voice would ask if this really was too drastic. Should I just cut down? I only really drink once or twice a week—that’s not that bad, is it? Granted, one of these days would usually be a binge, but the other was just a couple of glasses of wine with dinner. Is that a problem?
Then I realised why I’d even considered going sober in the first place: I saw firsthand how epic I felt when I cut out alcohol, and it was the desire to feel that good all the time that made me want to do it. You don’t need to be an “alcoholic” to stop drinking. You just have to have a desire to improve your life by removing a toxic substance that you don’t think serves you.
Of course, I could have just decided to cut down. But haven’t so many of us tried that countless times only to quickly end up back in the same cycle? I think it’s easier to totally cut something out than to try to monitor it, because when you do the latter, you end up spending too much mental energy making decisions about when you should or shouldn’t, how many you should have, and then dealing with feelings of regret if one drink after work catching up with friends turns into a wild night out. When the decision is already made for you, you don’t need to think about it, and for me, that meant that there was no deliberation.
But it hasn’t all been so clear-cut. Let me talk you through my journey so far…
With my motivation at its strongest, the first month was a breeze. In fact, it was one of the best months I’ve had in years! I can’t quite describe it, but I felt invincible. I had all this new found energy, I was losing weight without thinking about it, my head was clear, I felt calm, focused and productive. Oh, and I had literally saved days not spent hungover or anxious. I used that time to visit with friends I hadn’t seen in ages, to spend more time with my family and to work harder than ever, practicing yoga daily, reading and going for blissful walks around Hyde Park. Positivity was beaming out of me, and I couldn’t stop smiling. Was it really that simple?
One important thing for me during this time was that I stuck to my social arrangements. In fact, I made a conscious effort to attend more than I usually would. I didn’t want to stop drinking and suddenly associate that with being boring, or indeed for my friends to see it that way. I carried on life as usual, and it was pretty liberating to know I could go to any dinner/party/work event without the worry of whether I’d feel foggy the next day. I’ve had a few people say to me that they’re worried to stop drinking in case they lose friends or their social life, but in truth, I think that totally lies with you. You may leave parties earlier or opt for a cosy night in over a night out on the town, but is that such a bad thing?
Some people who stop drinking try to avoid telling people at parties in the hope no one notices, but I decided that for me, it was better to tell people, I guess probably to reaffirm the decision to myself more than anything else. The reaction was varied. Some people simply didn’t believe I was actually doing it and carried on offering me drinks at dinner (I don’t blame them—they have seen me go on healthy streaks followed by weeks “off the wagon” before), and others thought it was a cool thing to do and were super inquisitive about how I was finding it, while others still were totally uninterested by my declaration. I don’t think my friendships changed at all, but I definitely found myself making lots of new friends with people on a similar journey, and that was another really amazing bonus.
So the second month was an interesting one for me. The initial euphoria and high started to wear off as it became the norm. I soon realised I would still get the odd day where I felt tired, lethargic or irritable. Granted, it was much more fleeting and didn’t feel so bad when I know it wasn’t self-inflicted via tequila. But as this happened, I started to forget why I’d stopped drinking in the first place.
The times I felt most tempted to have a drink were not when I was stressed or had a bad day, but actually when I was feeling really excitable, in a celebratory mood or when the sun was shining and I felt like I was on holiday. I guess each person has different triggers. One of these celebratory times was the BRIT Awards. I got invited by Cîroc Vodka (oh, the irony), and it was such an amazing atmosphere. Everybody on the table was so lovely and fun, and everyone was singing along to the incredible live performances. I was the only person on the table not drinking (apart from a lovely guest who was pregnant), and I left the after-party within 10 minutes as I was so tired. It was the first time I had really felt like giving up alcohol meant I was giving up on some kind of fun.
Shortly after this, I started making these little rules: I can drink on dates. I can drink on holiday. I figured that going on a date sober would just be too awkward and that I needed something to relax and let the conversation flow. I certainly didn’t want to tell them I don’t drink at all, in case that was totally off-putting. So, I drank on a date, and then I went on holiday a week later and drank on that too. I didn’t drink a lot, maybe one or two glasses, which wasn’t enough to feel drunk or hungover, but I could see it in my face and my skin straight away.
I quickly realised that these mini rules I’d made for myself were just a gateway for me to forget my initial resolution and resume life as before. I could see that it would only be a matter of time before I was back in that cycle, so I decided to nip it in the bud and remind myself how epic I felt that first month and also remind myself what my goals are for this year. I want this to be the year I really make something of myself, inspiring people and making then smile through my writing, yoga teaching and work with the Mental Health Foundation. I know that I have a hell of a better chance of doing that if I’m applying myself with a clear head, a tonne of energy and a happy mind.
We all have goals, for the day, month, year, and before I do anything now, I think, Is this taking me towards or away from that goal? Reading a book, going to yoga, having conversations with friends where I’m truly engaged are all taking me closer. Drinking too much wine at a casual dinner and spending half of the following day with a headache? Definitely taking me away!
And what about now?
I have to admit that giving up drinking is not as easy as I first assumed in January. There are definitely challenges, not least because so much of our socialising is based around alcohol. I’ve found I’ve also been indulging in way too much sugar as some kind of substitute, but I’m trying not to beat myself up over it! But I would go as far as to say that deciding to give up drinking is one of the best things I have ever done. I’m still very much on this journey and trying to navigate my way through it, but I can happily, and proudly, say I’m on the sober wagon and absolutely loving it. I’m not going to say I’ll never drink again, because I can’t predict the future, but for the foreseeable future, I’m choosing Virgin Marys all the way.
No matter how much or how little you drink, if you think it’s affecting your life negatively in any way, then why not try some time without it? Even just for a month, see how it feels. For anyone taking up the challenge, my first piece of advice would be not to compare your drinking habits to other people’s. Most of my friends drink a similar amount to me, and they would never dream of giving it up, because alcohol doesn’t seem to affect them in the same way. They don’t get that mental fog or anxiety for days after. So go with your gut on this; if you think that drinking, even moderately, isn’t improving yourself, then get excited for an amazing journey ahead of you when you go for it and make this change.
I would love to hear your thoughts and to chat with you about your own journeys, so please do direct-message me on Instagram. You can find me at @roxienafousi.
Roxie Nafousi is a writer and mental health ambassador.